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Khawaja Asif’s ‘dacoit’ remarks earn ire of Sindh VCs

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Vice-chancellors from Sindh’s public sector universities have condemned Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif’s recent remarks during a session of the National Assembly, referring to VCs as “dacoits”.

“We strongly condemn the statement made by the minister and demand the expungement of these remarks from the proceedings of the August House, National Assembly. We also demand for public apology”, the VCs wrote in a joint letter to National Assembly Speaker Raja Muhammad Pervaiz Ashraf.

Such a statement, the VCs wrote, not only undermined their significant contributions to the education sector but also had far-reaching implications for the youth regarding employment prospects and access to scholarships.

As custodians of the higher education sector in the country, “we have strived relentlessly” to create an environment that nurtures learning, innovation, and academic excellence, despite the government’s indifference and lack of support towards higher education, the letter read.

“Our collective efforts, in collaboration with dedicated faculty members, staff, and students, have helped shape the future of countless young individuals who have gone on to contribute to society in diverse fields,” they highlighted.

They said that just a few months ago, the NA speaker invited VCs to join the National Assembly in celebrating the constitution-making day. This gesture highlighted vice chancellors’ vital role in shaping our nation’s future through education.

“Therefore, it is disheartening to witness such disparaging remarks directed towards Vice Chancellors who were recently honored guests within the august house.”

The VCs said that they believe in healthy debate and constructive criticism, which are integral to the growth of any sector; public representatives must exercise caution and respect in their choice of words.

Describing VCs — who shoulder immense responsibilities — as “dacoits” not only reflects a lack of understanding but also undermines the entire higher education community.

The letter added that such derogatory comments “demoralise” Vice Chancellors, faculty members, and staff, hindering their motivation and dedication to their roles.

The VCs added that it is essential to note that the implications of this statement extend beyond mere rhetoric, adding that Pakistan’s youth, who are the future of our nation, are directly affected by the perception of our education system.

The minister inadvertently cast doubt on the quality and integrity of our institutions, consequently jeopardising the prospects of our youth seeking employment opportunities, admissions and scholarships — both nationally and internationally, they said.

They added that the term undermines the trust that international bodies and organisations place in our education system, potentially impacting collaborations, research partnerships, and scholarships.

“We firmly believe in the power of dialogue and collaboration to address issues and improve the higher education landscape in Pakistan. However, for such constructive engagement to take place, mutual respect and understanding must prevail,” the letter read.

The VCs urged Khawaja Asif to reconsider his choice of words and refrain from disparaging remarks undermining the efforts of Vice Chancellors and the higher education community.

“We request a public apology for the derogatory statement made against Vice Chancellors, along with a commitment to fostering a more positive and respectful environment for collaboration and growth in the higher education sector.”

They also seek if the remarks made in the NA could be expunged from the official record of the proceedings, as they do not reflect the dignity and decorum expected from our elected representatives.

“We trust that you will give due consideration to our concerns and take appropriate action to rectify the damage caused by this statement. We look forward to your prompt response and a positive way forward”.

‘Serious repercussions’

Pakistan People’s Pakistan (PPP) leader Nafisa Shah slammed the defence minister’s remarks as derogatory and said it my have “serious repercussions” for the country’s higher education institutions.

Taking to Twitter, Shah wrote: “The Minister of defence #KhwajaAsifs derogatory remarks against all #ViceChancellors in the #NationalAssembly today may have serious repercussions on #Pakistans higher education institutions in the country and beyond in the world and further damage prospects and careers of the thousands of students studying in these institutions.

“I remember how the Minister for Aviation #GhulamSarwarKhan in the previous government made a sweeping statement on pilots degrees and as a consequence brought our National airlines to a halt.”

Furthermore, she said Asif should publicly apologise to the VCs and seconded their demand that the remarks be expunged from the House’s records.

“The #ViceChancellors of #Sindh have demanded a public apology from the Minister and asked the #Speaker to expunge these remarks in the statement below.

“Hope the minister would retract his statement as demanded by the Vice-Chancellors of Sindh in this letter. As it is the VCs are working under severe financial constraints as #HEC funding by federal government is meagre.”

Shah also added that public universities in Sindh were not being given “full support” and all civilian institutions should be respected.

“In the case of public universities in Sindh, if the Govt of Sindh were not providing full support to them, they would be in extreme hardship. As responsible office bearers we must respect our institutions.

“After all we are all unanimously condemning May 9 attacks on our institutions. In the same vein respect for civilian institutions and especially our universities is equally important. Individual wrongdoings of some officials cannot be generalised to condemn the entire leadership of higher education.”

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